In the age of the cloud IT organizations have never been more dependent on wide area networks (WANs). The challenge is that WANs are not only difficult to manage; they usually come in two forms that require customers to trade off cost and accessibility for security and performance.

A traditional Internet connection is how most organizations access a cloud environment today. But because of security concerns and performance issues many customers also employ leased lines. Given the complexities associated with trying to manage multiple ISPs and carriers many organizations wind up contracting with MSP to manage that process for them. The frustration that many customers and MSPs alike have experienced is that they have not been able to treat those WAN resources as a common pool of resources. Instead, each application had to be allocated to a specific network connection.

Enter network virtualization

But with the rise of network virtualization that is about to change. While network virtualization has emerged within data centers as a way to make LANs more efficient, startup companies such as VeloCloud are now applying that concept to the WAN.

This week VeloCloud announced the general availability of its namesake cloud service. Company CEO Sanjay Uppal says the service takes advantage of a network virtualization appliance that VeloCloud developed to aggregate all the WAN links coming into an organization. Customers and MSPs can then decide when and where to route specific traffic across any one of those networks based on the cost of the network transport and the quality of service being offered at any given price point.

Gaining control over internet suppliers

In effect, VeloCloud allows MSPs to control the WAN in much the same way they manage any other part of an enterprise network.

The immediate benefit is that network virtualization in the form of VeloCloud makes it a lot easier to play one ISP or carrier off another. In essence, just because a contract is in place it doesn’t guarantee that an ISP or carrier is going to see any network traffic; they will need to work a lot harder to make sure that data is flowing across their network on terms that are a lot more favorable to the customer.

The more subtle benefit is that the existence of VeloCloud should make it easier for MSPs to highlight the benefits of leased lines versus basic Internet connections. A traditional Internet connection might be fine for accessing Dropbox.com. But when it comes to enterprise applications such as SAP more often than not the customer is going to want the security and performance of a leased line. Via VeloCloud it just got a lot simpler for MSPs to manage all those different network connections without necessarily having to build their own network operations center (NOC).

We have not reached the point where an MSP itself can become a virtual entity, but we are getting closer. With virtualization now spanning everything from the WAN to the storage array and back again, the ability to manage IT as a whole at a much higher level of abstraction has never been greater.

Mike Vizard is a veteran IT journalist, former Editor in Chief of CRN and InfoWorld, and an IT industry market expert who has chronicled the information technology revolution over many decades, from DEC to Google.